Daily Press Briefing - January 23, 2014

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Secretary Kerry / Davos, Switzerland
    • Edgar Arias Tamayo / Avena
    • Signing of Cessation of Hostilities Agreement
    • Geneva / Conference / Iran / Kurds
    • Terrorism
    • Database of Photos, Working to Authenticate Reports
    • Edgar Arias Tamayo / Avena / Foreign Secretary Meade / Government of the State of Texas / Governor Perry / Consular Notification Compliance Act
  • IRAQ
    • Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives / Anbar / Strategic Framework Agreement / ISIL / Vice President / President Obama / Brett McGurk
    • Turkish Domestic Developments
    • Deputy Secretary Burns Travel
    • Need to Resolve Differences Through Peaceful Means
    • Joint Plan of Action, Implementation Agreement / India / Oil Purchases / Waivers / Sanctions
    • Devyani Khobragade / Focused on Moving Relationship Forward
    • Close Contact with Greek Authorities on Efforts to Find Escaped Terrorist
    • U.S. Works with Pakistani Government on Wide Range of Issues
    • Condemn Attacks / Kabul Restaurant
    • Kenneth Bae
    • Encourage Both Countries to Work Through Disagreements When They Arise Through Diplomatic, Peaceful Means
    • NATO Secretary General / SOFA / BSA / President Karzai
    • Dr. Afridi
    • Reports of Border Incursions
    • Frequent and Close Contact with Israeli Authorities
    • U.S. Concerned About Terrorist Threat in Syria
    • Zawahiri
    • U.S. Urges Government of Ukraine to Seize Opportunity Talks Represent, Including Repeal of Anti-Democratic Legislation
    • Olympics
    • Call for Access to Courtroom Proceedings
    • Citizenship
    • Immigration / Detroit / Michigan
Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 23, 2014


2:21 p.m. EST

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few statements at the top to give folks a chance to get settled. I also will endeavor to do the briefing without any part of the podium falling off today, so we all have goals. I think it’s good to have them.

First, the travel update: Today, Secretary Kerry is in Davos, Switzerland. In Davos, he met with Tony Blair, with EU High Representative Lady Ashton, to discuss a variety of issues including Middle East Peace and P5+1 negotiations. Tonight, he will attend a business dinner – a dinner with business leaders, excuse me – they’re all, I think, business dinners – also in Davos.

Excuse me. Statement number two: On January 22nd, 2014 the state of Texas executed Edgar Arias Tamayo following his conviction for the murder of a Houston, Texas police officer in 1994. Mr. Tamayo was a Mexican national subject to the International Court of Justice’s Avena decision. The court in Avena found that the United States had failed to provide consular notification and access to 51 Mexican nationals, including Mr. Tamayo, as required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The United States compliance with our international obligations under Avena is critical to our ability to ensure consular access and assistance for our own citizens who are arrested or detained by foreign governments, as well as to maintain cooperation from foreign governments on a broad range of law enforcement and other issues. The Department of State had communicated these important interests to Texas authorities with respect to Mr. Tamayo’s case, including urging Texas to delay his execution in order to provide an opportunity for the review of Mr. Tamayo’s conviction and sentence required under the Avena decision.

The Department regrets Texas’s decision to proceed with Mr. Tamayo’s execution without that review and reconsideration, but remains committed to working to uphold our international obligations under the Avena judgment. This case illustrates the critical importance of Congress passing the Consular Notification Compliance Act, which would provide an additional mechanism for the United States to meet our international obligations.

Third statement at the top, and then we will open it up for questions, and this is just happening as I came out here, so glad we were able to wait until afterwards: The United States welcomes the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces. This agreement is a critical first step toward building a lasting peace in South Sudan, but it is only the beginning of a much longer process to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, to foster reconciliation, and to hold accountable those who committed horrific abuses against the South Sudanese people. We call on all of South Sudan’s leaders to honor their commitments to the people of South Sudan by working quickly and earnestly toward an inclusive and comprehensive political dialogue. With the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and other friends of South Sudan, we will continue our efforts to expedite the release of the detainees and ensure their meaningful participation in a political dialogue.

It is also important to ensure that assistance can reach the hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by this conflict. To this end, we call on all parties to facilitate the immediate and unfettered provision of humanitarian assistance to all those in need in South Sudan regardless of where they are located.

We congratulate the IGAD mediation team for its crucial work in realizing this critical step in resolving the conflict in South Sudan. The United States continues to stand with the people of South Sudan, the United States Mission in South Sudan, humanitarian actors, and all those that continue to work under difficult and dangerous circumstances to alleviate the suffering and protect innocent civilians affected by this crisis.

With that, Lara, whose name was spelled incorrectly in yesterday’s transcript, don’t worry, I’ll fix it.

QUESTION: I’ve been called a lot worse, so I’m not worried about it. (Laughter.) Today in Davos, Secretary Kerry gave an interview to Al Arabiya, and in it he suggested there was an alternative person to Assad. He mentioned “he” several times. Who is he talking about?

MS. HARF: Well, taking a step back here, that’s way farther ahead than we are in the process, right? What we’ve said – so I don’t think he was specifically referring to any one person. I’ll go back and look at the transcript. Obviously, that just happened.


MS. HARF: What he was, I think, referring to was the fact that we’ve been very clear that there needs to be a political transition, a governing body that comes out of the Geneva process. Now, who that is, obviously – like, those are discussions way down the road from where we are. But to be clear, it can’t be Assad. And I think that’s the point that he was making. I don’t think he was referring to someone specific in those comments.

QUESTION: Okay. He also seemed to indicate that there could be some kind of regional force, whether peacekeeping force or some other regional force to go in and protect Syria – the people of Syria – at some point. I wasn’t aware that this was part of the discussions or that this was even in the works. Can you give us some more details on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think, to my knowledge, anything’s in the works. I think what he was referring to were the fact that there are ongoing discussions about where we could go from here and a variety of different ways we could end the suffering of the Syrian people. Obviously, we all know no decisions have been made, no conclusions have been reached, and we are not naive about how difficult reaching those conclusions will be.

But again, there are – people are starting to put ideas on the table. Part of what you do at the Geneva conference is get folks around the table. They recommitted to the Geneva communique. And our team who is there in Geneva today and will remain there for some time working with the different parties will start having more specific conversations about modalities, how this might work, what this might look like going forward.

QUESTION: And just in – you said people are putting ideas on the table. I’m just curious, has there been any kind of official offer or thought for Assad – where he would go, if he were to step down, what he would do? Has any country offered him asylum or shelter or residence at this point?

MS. HARF: It’s a really good question, and I actually don’t know the answer. I’m happy to check with our folks and see --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: -- if there is more of one. I just don’t know.


MS. HARF: Anything – what else on Syria? Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Texas?

MS. HARF: Can I finish Syria --


MS. HARF: -- and then we’ll go back to Texas?

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the speech by the Iranian president that he calls on the world community to help build the climate for election in Syria, that the people in Syria alone who must decide the future of their country?

MS. HARF: Well, we believe it is the people of Syria who should decide their future, which is why other actors like Iran, for example, should stop meddling in Syria’s business. We’ve been very clear that that’s why – it’s so significant that for the first time since this conflict began, the regime and the opposition sat down at the table together. It’s the start of a process, but that is a significant step.

So again, it’s up to them to decide their future. We are there to support the processes in any way possible. The UN is really driving the process, but it is up to the people of Syria. That’s why we’ve said there needs to be a transitional governing body chosen by mutual consent, and that mutual consent is of the Syrian people. So that’s why we’re so invested in this diplomatic process and that’s why we said there’s no military solution here, because indeed, the Syrian people should get to choose their future.

What else on Syria?


MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This question was asked to you again yesterday as well on the question that – whether the Assad regime in any way, you think, that partnered with ISIS intentionally – that there are – reports came out that they have been partnering on some gas and oil deals. So what’s your reaction to that?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points, and I think we’ve gotten asked about sort of the Assad regime’s connection to terrorists a couple times lately, so a few points on that. Of course, Syria was designated in 1979 as a state sponsor of terrorism. And what that designation includes, of course, is Syria continuing its political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region and beyond. So again, Assad’s connections to established terrorist groups are well-documented, including in our annual report on terrorism. I don’t have specifics in terms of ISIS. I’m happy to again go back to our team and see if there are specifics to share. But needless to say, the Assad regime’s long history of dealing with terrorist groups is very, very well known to us.

QUESTION: And one question on Syrian Kurds.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: They already declared transitional democratic autonomy is in one of the three Kurdish majority areas couple days ago, and it seems like they are going to declare in two of the rest of the other cities. Do you have any position on those declarations that --

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen those specific declarations, but our position remains that Syria needs to remain a unified country, certainly. And I would note that there are Kurds that are members of the opposition, including in leadership roles. So – I again haven’t seen those specific declarations, but our position on that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: They are also very much disappointed that they are – they were not invited to Geneva.

MS. HARF: Well, again, the opposition – we always said there needed to be one opposition delegation and one regime delegation, and again, noting that there Kurds that are a member of the opposition.


QUESTION: Syria, yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah, uh-huh.

QUESTION: Yesterday, responding to the report of some 55,000 photos that depict --

MS. HARF: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- alleged torture and systematic executions in Syria, Russian Premier Medvedev said that we cannot say Assad is a criminal without investigation. What’s your response to that statement? And I have a quick follow-up, also.

MS. HARF: Okay. And let me just give you a little background on the photos and when we knew about them. I think there have been some questions about this. We learned of the existence of this database of photos in November. We were shown some of the sample images of them – we, the United States Government. Those involved with bringing the database to light chose to work on mapping and authenticating the photographs with nongovernmental international experts. But out of concern for the safety of the source who brought us the photos and his family, we did not publicize the existence of the database at that time. I know there’s been some questions about this, so I just wanted to start there.

So again, we’ve taken a look at them. We have been working on authenticating them. They do – are completely in line with everything else we’ve seen from the Assad regime. Of course we believe any evidence like this should be authenticated, but we have – including these photos, but beyond these photos – a huge amount of evidence that the Assad regime has brutalized its people, including in prisons – I think a lot of these are from prisons. And that’s also why we’re focused on accountability at this point and working with the international community to get some accountability.

QUESTION: So do you concur with the Russian premier’s statement, or do you think that it goes without saying that Assad is a criminal?

MS. HARF: Well, those aren’t mutually exclusive, I think. We have seen a huge amount of evidence that what – he has committed war crimes. We talked about this with chemical weapons, right? We don’t need these photos to know the brutality of the Assad regime. What these photos show us, again – and underscores – is how widespread and systematic that brutality is. So again, we’re going to keep working to authenticate these kind of reports when they get these in, but have no reason to believe these are not authentic photos.

QUESTION: Okay. And just lastly --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- do you think that the photos warrants international trial of the Assad government?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re working with the UN right now on – in terms of how we should move forward with accountability for this. We clearly believe there should be, whether it’s through a tribunal – sort of what the modalities look like, I just don’t have anything to announce on that. But we’re working with the UN and our partners to figure out how that will work.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep.


MS. HARF: Well, I promised him we’ll change back to Texas, and then we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. After your strong statement on Texas --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the execution of this Mexican, what would be the next step? I mean, you will --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. Administration will press the Congress to pass a new law to make sure that the United States complies with its international obligation?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: And you have probably seen the strong statement of Mexico, which is very upset of – because of this execution. So do you see any damage on your diplomatic relationship with Mexico?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points: First, the Secretary did discuss it in his bilateral conversation with Foreign Secretary Meade last week from Mexico when he was in town. We’ve made very clear to the Mexican Government that we are actively engaged in this issue with the government of Texas and that we care very deeply about it. And we’re going to keep making that clear to the Mexican Government.

A couple – two sort of main things we’ll do going forward. The first, as I said, is encouraging Congress to pass the Consular Notification Compliance Act, which, again, provides an additional mechanism for the United States to meet our consular notification and access international obligations. And the second is working with the state of Texas. Certainly, there are – the Avena case covered 51 Mexican nationals, not all in Texas I don’t believe, but who fall under the Avena ruling that they were not provided access and their cases should be reviewed and reconsidered. So we absolutely will keep working with the state of Texas, and other states if some Mexican nationals are incarcerated there, to work through this issue.

I think one point that is important to make is, again, as the Secretary said in his letter to Governor Perry on this: As a former prosecutor, we take these charges very seriously. We’re not doubting the guilt of Mr. Tomayo. But, indeed, because we aren’t doubting the guilt, it is even more imperative that every single process be followed. And certainly, it’s imperative that we can go to other countries – Mexico, and elsewhere – and say we would like consular access to our folks. We do that here, and we’d like it in your country as well.


QUESTION: But to the outside world, it’s basically the U.S. It’s not about the Texas, right? For the outside world, it’s a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights.

MS. HARF: Well, when we talked to Mexico, we’ve been very clear that we are doing everything we can in pressing the state of Texas to uphold our international obligations. That’s actually a reason that we believe the legislation is so important, because it’s a U.S. – it would be U.S. legislation that would help us come in line with both our International Court of Justice ruling, which is the Avena case, and the Vienna Convention. So that’s why we think legislation is very important. But again, there’s only so much we can do. And this, ultimately, at the end of the day, was a decision for the state of Texas.

QUESTION: Yeah. But for the outside world, doesn’t this send this negative signal for image for the U.S. that it’s not complying to the international rules and norms?

MS. HARF: That was certainly the argument the Secretary made directly to Governor Perry and that we’ve made to the state of Texas at a number of levels, absolutely, that we – how can we go overseas and ask folks to give us consular access if we don’t do the same thing here? So that’s certainly the argument that was made to the state of Texas in this case.

QUESTION: But how do you explain to people outside the U.S., in other part of the world, that the rules of the federal government doesn’t run in one of the provinces? This is how it’s being seen outside the U.S.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m – I mean, I’m trying to be very clear in how I speak about it, certainly, and other folks are as well. That’s why we very publicly said that we are working with the state of Texas for them to come in line with our international obligations. And if other countries raise the issue with us, we will talk them through it diplomatically, through diplomatic channels, and explain to them the system and how it works, and we’ll keep having those conversations.

QUESTION: You said --


MS. HARF: Yeah. I’ll go to you next.

QUESTION: -- the U.S. was actively engaged – the State Department was actively engaged and Secretary wrote a letter.

MS. HARF: To Governor Perry. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: To Perry. Beside this, was there any other signs of active engagement with the Texas government?

MS. HARF: Yeah. On January 14th – I think this may have been one of the last – we’ve been engaged with this – the government of the state of Texas for months and months on this. Recently, on January 14th, I think a joint group from the Department of State and the Department of Justice traveled to Texas to meet with Texas authorities on this. We have, throughout months, certainly – I mean, the Avena case was, I think, in 2004, so this has actually been a discussion we’ve been having for many years with the state of Texas. But under our Administration here, we’ve had many conversations, including in the last few days, leading up to the execution that took place last night.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Has – have you received any communication from the Mexican authorities on this?

MS. HARF: I think I’ve seen they’ve made some public statements. I can check and see if there’s been private diplomatic communication since – do you mean since the execution?


MS. HARF: I can check and see on that. Did you have a question on this?

QUESTION: I have one that you just answered, and so I could switch topics whenever.

MS. HARF: Oh, you do have anything on this?


MS. HARF: Okay. Then go ahead and switch. Something on this? Okay, one more. And then, Guy, you can switch topics.

QUESTION: So do you think that the U.S.-Mexico relationship are going to be strained in future?

MS. HARF: We certainly hope not, not at all. We had a good meeting last week with our Mexican and Canadian counterparts. We work together on a whole host of issues.

And one thing we’ve been clear with the Mexican Government about is that we at the State Department, to the extent that we can, are very much trying to get the state of Texas to uphold these obligations. And we have more work to do, because there are outstanding and pending cases that fall under the Avena ruling that we’re going to have to work with the state of Texas on. So certainly we hope and have no reason to think the bilateral relationship will not continue in a very strong way.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Marie, do you know if this issue came up in their meeting last week?

MS. HARF: It did.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. Is it Texas – is Texas the only state or any other state where you have problems with the Vienna Convention?

MS. HARF: I would have to check on – the Avena ruling talked about 51 Mexican nationals. I would have to check and see if there’s a breakdown. I think there are some other states involved here, so I can check with our legal folks and see.

QUESTION: Sorry. Actually on Mexico, so this did come up in their meeting --

MS. HARF: Last week.

QUESTION: -- last week, but they haven’t raised any concerns about it.

MS. HARF: I don’t know if they --

QUESTION: Well, I didn’t get to --

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t know if they’ve reached out to us since the execution last night.


MS. HARF: We discussed it last week in the bilateral meeting.

QUESTION: And was the sense that they were upset?

MS. HARF: I mean, look, they’ve made their position publicly clear.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay.

MS. HARF: And we have as well.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MS. HARF: You can change topics.

QUESTION: There’s been a number – two of the highest-ranking Sunni political – elected political leaders from Iraq have been through town in the last week.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yep.

QUESTION: The speaker of --

MS. HARF: Nujayfi.

QUESTION: Yeah. Nujayfi is here now. I was wondering if you could, first, just kind of give us a sense of whether or not he’s having any official meetings in this building --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and who’s he going to be meeting with and what are they going to talk about?

MS. HARF: Yeah. So I have a couple updates on Speaker Nujayfi’s travel to the States. On Monday, so four days ago, Secretary Kerry met with the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Usama al-Nujayfi, to discuss bilateral issues, including the ongoing situation in Anbar province. They discussed our shared commitment toward a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.

The Secretary noted the importance of cooperation between Anbari local and tribal leaders, the Iraqi security forces, and national leaders in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Anbar province. In that light, the Secretary welcomed the stated commitment by the Government of Iraq to incorporate Iraqi citizens in Anbar who stand up to fight ISIL and other extremist groups into the formal security structure of the state.

The Secretary further praised Speaker Nujayfi’s commitment to support efforts to enlist tribes to control their local areas, in coordination with provincial councils and the Government of Iraq. The two also discussed the importance of Iraq’s national election in April. And Secretary Kerry assured Speaker Nujayfi that the United States will continue to work with United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq to ensure that the election occurs on time, is transparent, and reflects the will of the Iraqi people.

And the Vice President also met with Speaker Nujayfi. This was yesterday, I believe. President Obama joined Vice President Joe Biden’s meeting with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Usama al-Nujayfi and a delegation of Iraqi parliamentarians. Both sides reaffirmed the importance of the strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq. The President encouraged Iraq’s leaders to continue dialogue to address the legitimate grievances of all communities through the political process.

Both sides agreed on the need for both security and political measures to combat terrorism and discuss efforts to formally integrate local and tribal forces into the state security structures. Both the President and Vice President expressed the United States strong support for continued cooperation between local and tribal leaders and the Iraqi Government against al-Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, and of course, underscored that the United States stands with Iraq and its people in this fight against extremist groups.

And I can check on the timing of that meeting. So those are just a couple of his meetings he’s had.

QUESTION: Just one more. Could you just speak to the challenges associated with – of managing these meetings with opposition figures from a political situation that’s fairly tense with sectarian divisions right now? I mean, has the Maliki government or the prime minister had anything to say about the fact that these guys are coming, and is there – have you followed up with him within the context of these meetings?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I mean, we’ve made very clear to the Iraqi Government that we will talk to the different political leaders from all sides as part of our engagement. The Vice President has spoken a number of times to Prime Minister Maliki in the recent weeks. The Secretary has made calls. A lot of people have made calls. Brett McGurk, who folks know knows Iraq very well, was just there for an extended trip where he met with political leaders from across the board. So this has certainly been our practice. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that it should be otherwise.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Yes. What, on Iraq?

QUESTION: On Iraq, yeah. I’m just – there’s been a proposal in recent days, I believe by the Maliki government, to break off three new pretty much Sunni-dominated provinces in Iraq. They would be in mostly western and northern Iraq, but it would be two provinces in Anbar around Fallujah and Tuz Khormato, and then up north in Ninawa near Tal Afar. I’m just wondering if this came up in the discussions with the Secretary or to your extent of knowledge with the Vice President, and what the Administration feels about this. I know there’s been a strong sense of keeping one country of Iraq --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- but I don’t know how that would equate with breaking off into new provinces within Iraq.

MS. HARF: Right. It’s a good question and I actually – I’m sorry to do this to you twice today – don’t know the answer. So let me check with our folks. I’m not aware of the details of the proposal, but I can see if it came up in discussions and see what our take is on what that might mean. You’re absolutely right that we’ve long said Iraq needed to remain a unified country, certainly, but I’m happy to check on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep. Yep, and then I’ll go you.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Turkey. I asked a couple of questions last week. Just to follow up those questions. First, how do you view the current unfolding corruption case in Turkey? It has been five weeks now.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve been following Turkish domestic developments in the wake of the corruption investigations. As we’ve said repeatedly and I will repeat again today, we are not going to comment on those investigations beyond reiterating our support for the strong desire of Turkey’s citizens to see all investigations conducted in a fair, transparent, and democratic manner. I think as you heard the Secretary say earlier this week, the United States is not and will not become involved in Turkey’s domestic politics. I think we’ll leave it up to them to have those conversations.

QUESTION: Last week I again asked whether the Prime Minister Erdogan has been – and the government has been arguing that there’s a coup attempt and this has nothing to do with the corruption. What’s your take on that?

MS. HARF: Again, we’re following the developments domestically in Turkey and are just not going to get involved in Turkey’s domestic situation or do any analysis of it from here.

QUESTION: The government accuses the Gulen Movement – it is an Islamic movement and they accuse that they are behind these cases. First of all, what do you know about the Gulen Movement? What’s your assessment about that?

MS. HARF: I think, as Jen said, we’re not going to do an assessment on an internal Turkish domestic matter. Obviously, we’re in contact with the Turkish Government on a range of issues, but we’re just not going to do more of an assessment of this group that you’ve asked about, I think, than that.

QUESTION: There is a judicial bill at the parliament currently being discussed. It has been criticized by the EU many, many times. Do you think this bill, if it passes the parliament, would be – would damage the separation of powers in Turkey?

MS. HARF: What bill are you asking about? I’m sorry. What specific bill?

QUESTION: It’s judges and prosecutors. It’s about the judges and prosecutors council. It changes the structure. I’m, again, just follow up this question from last week.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but these are all internal Turkish domestic issues, and it’s just not our position to take a position on them one way or the other.

Thanks. Yes.

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MS. HARF: Yep. Wait, let me go to her, and then you’re next.

QUESTION: On China and Japan?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Burns is visiting China right now. Do you have any update on his meeting with the Chinese counterpart? And did they mention anything to – any suggestions to improve the China-Japan relations?

MS. HARF: Well, Deputy Secretary of State Burns did visit Beijing from January 21st to 23rd. He led the U.S. side in an interim round of the U.S.-China Strategic Security Dialogue and engaged in discussions with senior Chinese official on a range of issues. He did stress the importance of a close U.S.-China cooperation to obtain meaningful and early steps by North Korea to meet its international obligations and negotiate complete and irreversible denuclearization, as called for in the 2005 Six-Party Joint Statement.

The Deputy Secretary also discussed with Chinese counterparts our shared commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We appreciate the close cooperation between our two countries as members of the P5+1 on implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our EU and P5+1 counterparts negotiated, and which took effect on Monday.

Deputy Secretary Burns also stressed the importance of all sides avoiding unilateral action to assert territorial and maritime claims, and for China to work constructively with its neighbors to reduce tensions in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. He reiterated longstanding U.S. interests in all parties managing the situations diplomatically. I think that probably covers the extent of our readout, but if you have follow-ups, go ahead.

QUESTION: So is there any suggestion from the U.S. side to improve the China and the Japan relations?

MS. HARF: I don’t think we’re going to talk more detail – in more detail about what those discussions looks like, except again reiterating our longstanding belief that China and its neighbors – all of its neighbors – should work together to resolve disagreements diplomatically and peacefully. That’s certainly a message that we all convey in meetings we have and that the Deputy Secretary definitely conveyed.

QUESTION: And also, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe said at the World Economic Forum that the current China-Japan relationship was like the one between the UK and Germany before World War I, and the two countries ended up in a war despite their close business ties. Do you have any comment?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen those specific comments. Again, I would reiterate what we said repeatedly, that Japan and other countries need to resolve their differences through peaceful means. Japan is and remains a close ally of ours in the region, working on a number of shared issues together. I don’t have more comment on his comments, though.

QUESTION: And also, the Wall Street Journal reports today that the U.S. officials are seeking assurance from Japan that maybe Abe won’t repeat a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that has already made China and South Korea angry. So can you confirm this?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if that’s true, quite frankly. I’m happy to check with our folks. I just don’t know the answer.


QUESTION: Yeah. Can you please give us an update on what other countries, especially India, should expect from these relaxing sanctions? I had asked this question earlier, and --

MS. HARF: Yes. And thank you for asking it again. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: On the oil trade.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. So basically, under the Joint Plan of Action and the implementation agreement that we agreed to, we are – countries who still do export oil from Iran, we are telling them that they do not need to further reduce their purchases, but they’re not allowed to increase, right? So we’ve been going to countries like India and others, asking them to continue reducing their oil purchases from Iran. Under the Joint Plan of Action, they don’t need to continue reducing, but they cannot increase.

QUESTION: And keeping the – okay, you say that the – keep the trade volume the same.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But what about the – any relaxations in the payment methods? Because they have been changing the payment methods too because of the sanctions. And any other trades that gets affected, because there’s a lot of other trades going on between the two?

MS. HARF: Yeah. I’m happy to check on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I clarify something on that?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yep. And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Well, yeah. Go ahead, clarify that, and then we’ll go – yeah.

QUESTION: So you said that countries have been told that they no longer need to continue decreasing their purchases.

MS. HARF: Correct. Yes.

QUESTION: But they can’t increase. So are they no longer – could they go back up to what they had been --


QUESTION: -- or just what they hit is their --

MS. HARF: They have to stay where they are.

QUESTION: -- their floor.

MS. HARF: Correct.


MS. HARF: They have to stay where they are right now.


MS. HARF: They just don’t have to continue reducing, which normally we require countries to continue reducing under the oil infrastructure scheme.

QUESTION: Okay. But they can’t go back up to where they were beforehand.

MS. HARF: No. They cannot.


QUESTION: Just a quick one. What is the – a follow – just a clarification.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What is the cutoff date for that?

MS. HARF: The – well, implementation started on the 20th, so I think it’s July 20th? Let me double-check on that.


MS. HARF: Whatever six months is from January 20th. Obviously, there’s also an option to extend for another six months. Let me double-check the date. I think that’s right.

QUESTION: This six-monthly reduction is mandated by the Congress, right?

MS. HARF: Yep. And the Secretary sent waiver – the President delegated waiver authority to the Secretary on Monday. The Secretary sent the waivers up to the Hill the same day that implementation took place.

QUESTION: Okay. So he has signed the waiver?

MS. HARF: The waivers went up on Monday. The deal with the Joint Plan of Action and what we are waiving to Congress, yes, those went on Monday.

QUESTION: Normally, you release those waivers.

MS. HARF: We did. We released them. They all went out on our website on Monday. They’re all up there. Treasury obviously also has a part of this as well. I’m trying to see if I can find the date of – I don’t know where the last day is. I’m just trying to see if I can find it. But yes, we sent the waivers up on Monday, the day of implementation. Treasury also posted some information on their website for businesses and other – and countries about what to do in terms of sanctions.

QUESTION: And on Secretary’s meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, a senior Administration official yesterday gave a readout on the meeting.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But was the Devyani episode discussed during the meeting?

MS. HARF: I can double-check. You saw the readout, of course?


MS. HARF: I would assume that it was, but I am not positive about all the details.

QUESTION: It was not clear in that readout.

MS. HARF: I’ll check. I’ll check.

Do you --

QUESTION: The Ministry – a follow-up – the Ministry of External Affairs of India gave out a readout, and in that they mentioned this, and they said they are working to take it forward. Can you give us – since this has happened, this – we have heard it so many times. Is there anything concrete, positive that has been done to accept the talks to get down to and clarify this mess that we have got into?

MS. HARF: Well, I think the fact that the Secretary sat down with his counterpart to discuss the whole range of issues we deal with India on is a sign that the relationship is moving forward and that we have a lot of work to do. The fact that your first question today was about oil and sanctions and how we’re working together to reduce Iran’s oil, that’s, I think, just evidence enough that we’re trying very hard to move past this. And I know the Secretary believes that as well. So again, we’ll keep having discussions with the Indian Government when they raise them, but we are very focused on moving the relationship forward.

Yes? One more, then we’ll go on. Yep.

QUESTION: It’s a different issue.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, let me come back to you, then. You’ve been very patiently waiting.

QUESTION: Marie, I asked you yesterday about the cooperation with Greece on terrorism issues.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And today, I wanted to ask you: Do you actively participate in the investigation? Can you tell us?

MS. HARF: No. I mean, this is a Greek investigation. We stand ready to provide support to the Greek Government if needed, certainly. And we are in close touch with Greek authorities about their efforts to find the escaped terrorist, but this is their ballgame, for lack of a better term.

Yep. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On U.S.-Pakistan ministerial meeting next week?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: It’s on Monday. So do you have anything right now on what are the issues, topics to be discussed with Afghanistan to --

MS. HARF: I don’t have any specifics in terms of that meeting. Obviously, we talk and – so I just – I can’t speak to that. I’ll let you know when we do. We work with the Pakistani Government on a wide range of issues, whether it’s economic issues, environmental issues, energy issues certainly we talk about quite a bit, and obviously regional security issues. But if we can get more of a preview, I’m happy to get that for you.


QUESTION: Just one --

QUESTION: Marie, on --

MS. HARF: Do you have – did you have another one? And then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: I have one on Afghanistan.

MS. HARF: Okay. We’ll do Afghanistan, then I’ll got to you.

QUESTION: Five – after a long time, five volleyball players were killed by the militants in Afghanistan. The sports was a casualty (inaudible). Do you have anything to say on that?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that. Obviously, we condemn all of these kinds of attacks. We saw recently the horrible attack at the Kabul restaurant where tragically we lost some of our own citizens who were working to help the people of Afghanistan. I’m happy to check on that specific.

QUESTION: Marie, on release of Kenneth Bae --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- have you anything heard from North Korea recently?

MS. HARF: Have we heard anything from North Korea?


MS. HARF: Well – and let me just – on Kenneth Bae, I got asked this earlier in the week, so let me give a few details: Department officials last spoke to his family on January 21st, 2014. The Embassy of Sweden, which obviously is our protecting power in Pyongyang, has regularly sought consular access. They’ve met with him nine times since his detention, most recently on December 30th, 2013. We have said very clearly that they should grant him amnesty and release him to come home to his family. I just don’t have more details on it than that.

QUESTION: But North Korea have any significant – he will be released for this sooner --

MS. HARF: Well, again, we’ve called on them to release him right away.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: That’s it.


QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: Yep. And then --

QUESTION: Japanese Prime Minister Abe said at Davos forum that it’s very important for Japan and China to open a frank dialogue at first, and not to set any preconditions for the talk. But China says that Abe shut the door on dialogue between the leaders of the two countries, and Abe should create favorable conditions for the talk. So do you have any comment on the resumption of the talk between the two leaders?

MS. HARF: I think probably just the comment I had earlier, that we encourage both countries to work through these disagreements when they arise through diplomatic means and through peaceful means. And beyond that, I just don’t have more specifics.


QUESTION: The NATO chiefs, when they met and they talked about the agreement – BSA – and they said that they will be not reaching an – they are waiting till sometime in late spring or early summer, they said.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: So what is the – so – and that means that kind of a deadline they are putting.

MS. HARF: Well --

QUESTION: And where is the State Department on that?

MS. HARF: Well, the NATO secretary general has explicitly stated that NATO will not conclude or sign its SOFA with Afghanistan until there’s a completed U.S.-Afghanistan BSA. So when I stand up here and say not signing our BSA, it has huge ripple effects of impacts, including planning with our partners. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. So obviously, there’s no hard deadline, but it needs to be signed as soon as possible, and our position continues to be that if we cannot conclude a BSA promptly, we will initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. and no NATO troops presence in Afghanistan.

That’s obviously not our preferred position. That’s not a future that we’re seeking. But every day that goes by without a BSA, that becomes more of a likelihood, not less.

QUESTION: No, but the other journalists who are attending there, they’re saying that there are other nations who are quite – they are expecting a kind of deadline from the U.S. that – do it by this – like, you had given a December --

MS. HARF: I just said there’s no deadline, and December 31st wasn’t a hard deadline either.

QUESTION: So – okay.

MS. HARF: So there’s really no hard deadline, but again, every day that goes longer without a BSA, it impacts our planning, it impacts NATO planning, it impacts the Afghan people’s planning for what their country will look like post-2014, and that’s why we believe it’s in the best interest of the Afghan people for President Karzai to sign this as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Even the cuts in the U.S. aid to Afghanistan, which is by half by the Congress is --

MS. HARF: Not all – I don’t think it’s to all U.S. aid. I think it was specific to some kinds of aid. In the draft budget?


MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: So is it part of that non-signing of BSA? Is it linked to it?

MS. HARF: I can check. I’m not exactly sure. Let me check on that. I’m not sure.


QUESTION: To clarify on Afghanistan --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- some people have said that this decision – that Karzai needs to make this decision within weeks, not months, i.e. --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- there may be no – it’ll happen on this day/deadline --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- but it needs to happen soon. Now, Karzai election – or the election to replace Karzai --

MS. HARF: In April.

QUESTION: -- will be in months, not weeks. So does this indicate that Karzai needs to make this decision, that the U.S. cannot wait until after his successor comes in?

MS. HARF: We have – we have said weeks, not months. I would reiterate that here. And we have also said we do not want to wait until after the election, that President Karzai should sign it --


MS. HARF: -- or make a decision on what he’s going to do.


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And this is the second week of that weeks, and if you wait for another two month – two weeks, it’ll be months. We’ll be entering months.

MS. HARF: We are saying weeks, not months. And again, we have to take steps and plan for what we think is the most likely outcome and what it will look like after 2014. And by him continuing to not sign it, the likelihood becomes more likely, I guess, or higher that we won’t have any troops there. And again, we encourage him to sign it as soon as possible.

QUESTION: No, but a ISAF official on background told a journalist there that – and there will be some additional – some troops in – around in July through September, but by October, most of those will be gone. So on that statement – so we have a kind of – a time span to work on it.

MS. HARF: Well, when we – when the United States has decisions about troop presence and numbers and drawdown, we’ll be making those announcements. We don’t have anything to announce on that point. The President is still making decisions about drawdown and what it will look like after 2014.

QUESTION: Can we return to Pakistan?

QUESTION: Would the State Department support the Pentagon proposal to have 10,000 troops post-2014, and would you support --

MS. HARF: I am certainly not going to get into internal deliberations – excuse me – definitely not going to get into internal deliberations about troop numbers or what it will look like. Those are private deliberations for a reason.

QUESTION: But have you received the Pentagon proposals?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into them in any way, period, but I appreciate your tenacity in asking.


QUESTION: Back to Pakistan, the Foreign Office said today they are – that they’re not going to release Dr. Shakil Afridi due to or in light of the withholding of aid, that kind of the carrots approach has already been tried, now we’re trying a sticks approach, withholding a certain amount of aid until he’s released.

MS. HARF: Well, this is an act of Congress, to be clear.

QUESTION: Right, right, but concurrent on the Secretary of State coming to them and saying, “He’s released -- ”

MS. HARF: And so we’re reviewing the language and the law, and obviously we’ll comply with the law. And our position on Dr. Afridi has not changed. It’s long been clear. We believe his treatment is unjust and unwarranted. We regret that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence and would argue that his prosecution and conviction sends absolutely the wrong message about the fight against al-Qaida, about the importance of our shared interest in bringing Usama bin Ladin to justice. So again, we’ll review the legislation and comply with whatever law ends up being put in place.

QUESTION: Sure. But the idea that they’re saying we don’t care what you guys think about the law, we’re not going to comply with it – what’s your reaction to that right now coming from Pakistan?

MS. HARF: That our position hasn’t changed, that I think his prosecution and conviction sends the wrong message about how important it was to bring the world’s most wanted terrorist to justice. And I think that’s probably the only message I have for the Pakistani Government on this one.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on an earlier question.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You – I was listening to your answer, that you are stressing to China that – and this repeated to its neighbors, like.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And you are concentrating on that, the eastern part. What about the repeated incursions of China into border areas of India?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any details on that. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have some sort of assessment.


QUESTION: You had mentioned al-Qaida a second ago. I have two al-Qaida-related questions.

MS. HARF: Okay. That was a good transition. I liked that.

QUESTION: All about seamlessness.

MS. HARF: That was good. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So thank you. First off, do you have any update about the arrests in Israel?

MS. HARF: I don’t. Let me see what I have on that. Just give me one second. Yeah, I don’t really have much of an update from yesterday. Someone had asked if we had discussed this with the Palestinian Authority. The answer to that was no, we had not. I think Said might have asked that yesterday. We’re in frequent and close contact with the Israeli authorities on this. I don’t have much further than that from yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, secondly, there were some reports that Ayman Zawahiri has recorded another message – it’s on militant websites – telling militants to unite in Syria. Are you aware of these and do you have any response?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen it. I think – a few points: Obviously, we are concerned about the terrorist threat in Syria. We’re concerned about al-Qaida affiliated elements from taking advantage of the situation there to conduct terrorist attacks. I haven’t, quite frankly, seen the Zawahiri message. Did you say it was an audio message?


MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll take a look or a listen to that when I get back.

And look, this is not new rhetoric we’ve heard from Zawahiri. He’s – core al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, besides Zawahiri, has essentially the entire leadership been decimated by the U.S. counterterrorism efforts. He’s the only one left. I think he spends, at this point, probably more time worrying about his own personal security than propaganda, but still is interested in putting out this kind of propaganda to remain relevant.

So we’ve seen al-Qaida in the past try to take advantage for propaganda purposes of local – of conflicts in places like Iraq, places like Yemen, and places like Syria, to use that for propaganda purposes. But beyond that, I don’t know of more of an operational link between Zawahiri and folks in Syria.

QUESTION: So you’re not seeing any kind of operational command and control between core al-Qaida and what the militants in Syria --

MS. HARF: I’ll check with our folks. Not to my knowledge. But again, I want to check with our team just to make sure what the exact – on operational. We certainly know that elements in Syria take – al-Qaida elements in Syria take inspiration from folks like Zawahiri and from some of the language that we hear from him, and that, I’m sure, it’s the same kind of language that’s on this audio that I will take a look at when I get off the podium.

But beyond that, again, we’ve been very clear that because of the Assad regime’s climate it’s created in Syria, we are increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat. Certainly.

QUESTION: And just to clarify one thing – actually to update on one thing – it never hurts to ask.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

QUESTION: Where do – where does the Administration think Zawahiri is currently? Still in Pakistan or --

MS. HARF: I can double-check. We always don’t get into some of those specifics, but I’m happy to see if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. What else?

QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Your colleague at the White House said a few minutes ago that the U.S. is welcoming the upcoming talks between the president and the opposition in Ukraine.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So does it mean that the sanction option is off the table --

MS. HARF: Nope.

QUESTION: -- and that the U.S. prefers to – prefer the political dialogue? This question because the EU seems very reluctant to impose sanctions against Ukraine.

MS. HARF: Well, I’m not indicating we are eager to impose sanctions, but the option still remains on the table. We do urge the Government of Ukraine to seize the opportunity these talks represent and to take the first steps towards a national reconciliation. I would note that this should include the repeal of the anti-democratic legislation passed last week. So again, we’re looking at a variety of policy options, including sanctions. We’re not eager to do so, but we need to calibrate our policy based on the situation on the ground, and we hope the government takes advantage of this opportunity.

QUESTION: Sorry. Just to follow-up on that.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You mentioned sanctions, but exactly what type of sanctions are you talking about?

MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you on the options we’re considering.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Do you have update on the Olympic security threats?

MS. HARF: Not really, quite frankly. As we frequently see in the run-up to major international events, there is often an uptick in threat reporting. That’s not unusual. That’s why we have so many folks focused on it here. And we’ve said we will assist the Government of Russia in a liaison role in making sure the Games go off safely. But beyond that, no update on any of the outstanding issues I think we’ve talked about.


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Back to China. I asked you this question before about the Citizens’ Movement. There’s a trial. The supporters were barred.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Some diplomats went there.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: And they were barred as well.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Was there an American diplomat involved?

MS. HARF: Yes. So I did get you an answer. I do sometimes follow up when I say I will.


MS. HARF: The U.S. Embassy did request permission to attend the trial on December 20th. We reiterated that request on January 21st, once the trial date was announced. A U.S. diplomat was present at the courthouse, but was prohibited from entering the courtroom.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, they --

QUESTION: Marie --


MS. HARF: Go ahead. Follow up. No, no, no.

QUESTION: Oh. Just wanted to ask, will the United States make some sort of statement about that, about the fact that their diplomat was prohibited from --

MS. HARF: Well, we do call on the Chinese Government to immediately allow diplomats, international observers, and journalists access to the courtroom proceedings and to ensure that all individuals are giving due process in these proceedings.


QUESTION: Marie, the European – the EU country Malta has decided to sell citizenship, and the EU is working to – the European Commission is going to take action on that. And some supporters are saying that this could be a terrorist threat for people to get the Malta citizenship. And so is the State Department – do you have any update?

MS. HARF: I hadn’t heard of that. I haven’t.


MS. HARF: I’m happy to take the question and get an answer.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MS. HARF: I just hadn’t heard of that issue.


MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MS. HARF: Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: I have one more, actually. Sorry.

MS HARF: Lara.

QUESTION: Full of questions today. Did you see those reports out of Detroit about the Michigan governor who wants work visas given to 50,000 immigrants to help stimulate Detroit’s economy?

MS. HARF: Detroit’s coming back?


MS. HARF: I have seen those reports, and I checked in with our folks. I’m trying to get a little more clarity and information about if we have a position on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

QUESTION: Can you take that question?

MS. HARF: Yeah. I will.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: And tell everyone to buy American cars.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

DPB # 15